When talking about Maine’s differences from the rest of the country with my new acquaintances, I have spoken frequently about division. I have spent much of my time explaining how Brunswick was “one Maine” and Lewiston was “another,” and how that caused our academic neighbors at Bates to have a different relationship to their hometown. I’d ramble on about how the suburbs of southern Maine differed from the mill towns in the west and the farming communities up north. But I found myself struggling to explain where my native Portland falls in the division of the two Maines.
Portland is a very unique city for many reasons. All urban areas are, though; as the world becomes more interconnected and regional nuances become memories, Portland has become less like its former self, but more like everywhere else. I wanted to tell people who asked where Portland fit into the “two Maines” dilemma that Portland was both. As my father said when we talked about the city’s gentrification, “We [Portland] are a real city now: We’re rich people and we’re poor people.” The juxtaposition of extreme class differences is what often defines urban living—Portland is no different.
This leads me to say that Portland is “both Maines.” But that intuition, under the scrutiny of my lived experience, feels wrong. In fact, “two Maines” feels wrong. It’s not enough. I find myself wanting to talk about three Maines: the wealthy, suburban, coastal southern Maine where summer is a verb; the working-class inland Maine defined by what it used to be; and the less often acknowledged third Maine, primarily concentrated in Lewiston and Portland, where urban immigrant experience and cultural diversity, so rare in Maine, are found.
Though I am not an immigrant myself, this third Maine defined much of my adolescence and political awareness. The presence of my diverse high school in a place like Maine led to a sense of notoriety among a certain kind of person. I remember my freshman year, a frequent question from adults was why “someone like me would go to a school like that.” The more cowardly among them would occasionally harass younger immigrant children or teachers online with varying levels of extremism. There were times when my high school’s existence felt like a political issue. These experiences that my non-Portlander peers could not relate to—alongside the more positive experiences of meeting acquaintances, friends, peers and family from all over the world—made me feel disconnected from the rest of Maine. The occasional conversation with friends about politics reinforced this feeling of isolation: We didn’t get the rest of Maine. We didn’t feel like Mainers.
I have been a college student for about two weeks. But for the first time in my life, I feel like I’m from Maine. The experience of meeting people for whom Maine was something new—and occasionally meeting people for whom Maine was something old—made me realize the unity of this place that often paints itself as divided. I lamented the experiences of my hometown and found that other people from Maine resonated: It didn’t matter if someone was from Cape Elizabeth or Caribou, they understood.
I feel like if I were smarter I would be able to find a more profound lesson from it, but I still have one: There’s one Maine. Some pretend there are two Maines when it suits their narrative. Society, especially politicians and the media, likes to pretend that differences imply a lack of shared space: that there are two regions, two subcultures, and therefore we are different and adversaries. But, in reality, the suffering of one Maine is the suffering of another; the suffering of one world is the suffering of another. One of the first steps in building community is recognizing our shared space. No matter our divisions, we share Maine. It’s the first thing I’ve learned in college, really: We share Maine.